Sponsored vs. Earned Media: Why Both Belong In Your Marketing Strategy

What should marketers strive for, earned media or sponsored content partnerships? When it comes to telling your brand’s story, it can be tough to decide where to spend your energy. PR efforts can yield amazing earned coverage, but it’s not a sure thing. Sponsored content gives you control over the message and timing, but can be perceived as less authentic.

The answer is less black and white than you might hope. Both public relations and content marketing should be a part of your marketing strategy. In many ways, they’re two sides of the same coin — complementing each other’s strengths and weaknesses.

We’ve taken it upon ourselves to compare the pros and cons of pursuing earned coverage and paid content — highlighting where each can fit into a marketing plan.

Earned Media Lends (More) Authenticity

There’s a reason people turn to consumer reviews before they make a big purchase. A recommendation or positive review from an impartial third party gives your product and brand a kind of clout that can’t be bought. So when your brand’s story does get picked up by a news outlet, earning that media coverage can feel like winning the lottery.

If your product or initiative is deemed newsworthy by a trusted publisher, it’s also likely their competitors will follow suit. For newer companies or big launches, this kind of publicity could be important to building your brand and establishing trust with your audience.

On the flip side, sponsored content sometimes comes under fire for being “inauthentic” or too much like an ad. A Pressboard survey found that industry pros don’t believe people care all that much whether content is sponsored. Readers understand that sponsored content has become a necessary pillar of the publishing business. However, paid posts are met with a warmer welcome when the sponsorships are clearly acknowledged, and the content adds value to the reader beyond promoting the brand.

When Timing is Everything, Go Sponsored

A carefully calculated marketing plan operates on a timeline. Sponsored partnerships give you the opportunity to strategically plan when and where to share your story. With this level of precision, you can meet specific goals — like driving last minute ticket sales, or hyping up a new product before it goes live.

Though unpredictable, earned media may have a quicker turnaround time, since it isn’t subject to the same checks and balances between a brand and publisher.

For campaigns with strict deadlines, PR is a great complement to scheduled sponsored posts.

Shaping Your Own Narrative, or Embracing New Ones

When you devote time and energy to gaining publicity, you can’t be certain that publishers will bite. And if they do, they may not craft the story the way you want them to. There are enough negative reviews and PR nightmares out there to remind us that the press has a mind of its own.

That being said, editorial pieces may take a fresh angle on your story you might not have considered. Different narrative frames make your content appealing to different audiences, potentially opening up new markets for your brand.

For telling your story exactly the way you want to tell it, sponsored content is a marketer’s best friend. Partnering with a publisher gives you an invaluable degree of control over how the narrative is shaped. You can also convey the finer details, ensuring that all names are correctly spelled or that the relevant pages on your site are hyperlinked.

Communications and marketing professionals know their brand better than anyone. Their insights can lead to some truly creative approaches to storytelling. Taking the time to craft an engaging piece of sponsored content can pay off in spades, particularly for long-form stories or unconventional formats that don’t always find their way into a busy 24-hour news cycle.

Ramp Up PR Efforts When the Budget is Tight

For brands with a less robust marketing budget, sponsored content may not be as feasible an option. In that case, your human resources are your best marketing asset, and putting more effort and creativity into earning media coverage may make more sense.

Reaching out to media won’t cost you a thing — and with a great story idea, it could result in some free publicity.

A publicity stunt can be a low-budget way to grab the attention of the press or of key influencers. This could entail anything from surprising people with a unique giveaway, to temporarily changing your brand name to create buzz.

Publish, Share, Boost!

A marketer’s job isn’t done once your content goes live. Whether paid or earned, you’ll want to share your brand’s story far and wide.

Publisher’s social media feeds are prime real estate for brands. It used to be that publishers would only boost paid posts for brands on social. With Pressboard Boost, brands can boost publisher posts about their earned coverage on the publisher’s channels. It’s the best of both worlds: the cachet of hard-earned media coverage and the control to reach more of your target audience.

Overall, both earned and sponsored content play an important role in marketing strategy. The balance you strike between the two will really depend on your budget and the goals you’ve set for your campaign.

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